Was Neitzche Right?

George Carleton Jr. Professor of Philosophy David Dudrick gave a talk titled “Nietzsche Was Right: The Christian Grounding of Our Fundamental Concerns” on Tuesday, March 20 in Lawrence Hall as part of the Colloquium Series.

Dudrick covered four main points, the most important to him being his fourth – that Christianity, or something very much like it, is essential to justifying moral egalitarianism. Dudrick’s lecture was a reaction to the way religion, and specifically Christianity, is treated in academia. In his speech, he relayed a story of a student he knew in a Challenges of Modernity class whose Professor had compared being a believing Christian in the modern world to believing the earth is flat. 

“Students can feel like these classes are not only challenging their beliefs, but can completely dismiss their beliefs as well,” Dudrick said.

Dudrick observed that there is a difference between challenging someone’s beliefs and giving them the opportunity to have an open and thoughtful discussion, and rejecting those ideas and beliefs as worthless in the modern world. 

“[I was hoping] to put forward an argument that was positive. To say, far from being irrational or immoral, that I think Christianity, or at least belief in God, undergirds our thinking about knowledge and moral egalitarianism,” Dudrick said. 

While listening to this talk, I personally hit a roadblock. Why discuss just Christianity as this way of justifying moral egalitarianism? After discussing this with Dudrick in his office a few days after his talk, he said that “without Judaism there would be no Christianity,” and his talk even touched on the idea that these are Judeo-Christian ideals: the idea that everyone is made in the image of God. Dudrick defends Christianity because it is under more academic scrutiny than other religions. 

As history courses have taught us about Christian societies have crusaded against “heathens,” enslaved people of color, carried out genocides and committed many more atrocities, which seem to be anything but morally egalitarian. So why wouldn’t it be under scrutiny? Yet, these actions were not in line with Christian values. There is the ideal of Christianity and the reality of how societies carry it out. 

“It is totally true that Christians have not followed that, they’ve screwed up about that. But when we criticize people, even Christians, for screwing up in that way, we are using a standard that comes from and is justified by Christianity,” Dudrick said.

To Dudrick, the reason why we can recognize these actions as terrible is because of Christianity; in accusing these societies one would argue that their actions are un-Christian. So it is possible to have the ideal of Christianity upholding this idea of moral egalitarianism while simultaneously having Christian societies not fully realizing this ideal.  

In this sense, Christianity is as immoral and irrational as academia makes it out to be, but that is not actually what Christianity actually entails. It is how these societies carried Christianity into reality that makes the religion into what it is not.  The ideology of Christianity states that we as humans are all morally equal to one another. It is when Christian societies do not live up to this ideal that these practices are immoral. A society using any religion in this sense would make it what it is not, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam. There is nothing inherently bad about practicing a religion in the modern world. It is only when these religions are twisted that they become problematic, and even then those actions do not represent the core values of those religions. Nietzsche famously said that “God is dead,” and to Dudrick and many others who feel this pressure from academia, it is a big deal if He is.

Contact Alex Weimer at [email protected].